Organization and expression of the poxvirus genome

Experientia. 1982 Mar 15;38(3):285-97. doi: 10.1007/BF01949349.


Poxviruses comprise a large group of very complex animal DNA viruses which replicate in the cytoplasm of infected cells. Vaccinia virus, the most studied poxvirus, has a linear, double stranded DNA genome with an approximate molecular weight of 120 x 10(6) (180 kilobase pairs). The two strands of the DNA molecule are naturally cross-linked at both termini. In addition, the vaccinia virus genome contains very long inverted terminal repetitions of approximately 10 kilobase pairs which are further characterized by the presence of direct tandem repeats of a 70-base-pair sequence arranged in two blocks of 13 and 17 copies, respectively. A central region of the genome is highly conserved between different orthopoxviruses. In contrast, the ends are hypervariable and may contain extensive deletions and complex, symmetrical sequences rearrangements. Vaccinia virus gene expression is divided into two stages. Early in infection, RNA complementary to one half of one strand-equivalent of the genome is transcribed within subviral particles by the virion-associated RNA polymerase. Later in infection, after DNA replication, RNA complementary to one entire strand-equivalent is transcribed. RNA made late in infection is very heterogeneous in length and a large fraction of it contains self-complementary sequences. Late genes are clustered near the central region of the genome. Vaccinia virus mRNAs do not appear to be synthesized by a splicing mechanism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • DNA Replication
  • DNA Restriction Enzymes
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • Genes, Viral*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Poxviridae / genetics*
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid
  • Species Specificity
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Virus Replication


  • DNA, Viral
  • RNA, Viral
  • DNA Restriction Enzymes